Tuesday, December 16, 2008


When I was a kid I remember two toys that were on the market; one of which I had and the other that I wanted.

The one I wanted was a small truck and large vinyl sheet. You could draw a line on the sheet with the grease pencil that it came with (This must have been before the invention of the dry-erase marker) and the truck would follow the line around the board. There were two little electric eyes that kept the truck on the right path. If the right eye saw black it would turn the wheel slightly to the right to compensate, and if the left saw black I’d follow suit. The toy was slow and methodical and there were a few little things that took some getting used to, like the fact that it had a hard time with really sharp corners and intersecting lines, but it eventually got where you wanted it to go. I never had one of these but a friend did and I loved to play with it. I enjoyed trying to figure out what I need to do to make it change its path and take the correct course.

The other toy was pretty much the polar opposite of this little truck. It was a wind up little clown car that went relatively fast. It went on a rather straight line to start. Out of each side of the car were a little L shaped bars that rotated at slightly different speeds from each other. At the bottom of their rotation the bar would hit the ground and lift the wheels on that side off the ground for a second causing the car to pivot in that direction until the bar could no longer touch the ground. The frantic display of chaos that ensued was fun for a little bit but the novelty quickly work off. This thing would bang into walls, furniture and anything else until the winder expired.

The first car was slow and methodical and constantly checked its progress to make sure it was on track. The second had no method or direction. It just bounced around until it ran out of steam.

For good and for bad, I see many similarities in my children’s behaviors and these two cars. I concede that there are time when its just fun to run around and act crazy for a little while like the second toy. But ultimately Id like the kids to take the path of the first toy. Have a goal and keep working towards it. If you get out of line, thats no problem. Ill help you get back where you need to be and then you can follow the line and keep moving forward.

The really problem comes when they dont seem to even have the capacity to look for and follow the line. They just run around purposelessly no matter if they are on the line or not. Its as if I took the little chaos car and placed it on the grease pencil line and expected it to follow along. I find my self getting increasingly frustrated. I keep picking up the little toy and expecting it to follow the path and it consistently just runs of behaves by a complete different set of logic as if the line and the path underneath dont even exist.

If there were no underlying meaning behind this little story it would be easy to just give up and realize that the car is never going to see the line and quit trying. The reality of my situation is that I dont have that option. Im left with few other options except to pull things back to the right path and them let them go hoping that this time theyll finally learn that they need to follow the path laid out.


  1. Spot on analogy. YIKES! I know those kids.

  2. I like making "track" for my toys. Puting a fes building blocks, or books or other things in its expected path that may, hopefully keep it directed in the same general direction as the grease pencil line, but with wider bumpers, ramps, jumps, and daredevil thrills,, only to land again on books, bulding blocks and other things that will keep them headed in the right direction.

    The grease pencil car does seem to get stuck on abrupt changes in direction where a wall would change the wind up car's direction in an instant and the car not seem phased. This resillinace could be seen as a good thing in today's world.

    If simmilar courses were set with managable turns and such for both cars. One with grease pencil lines and one lined with All the Good Books, 2X4s and building blocks, both cars could predictibally end up completing the course successfully....

    I too know these kids.... and I love them all. even if they are like me.

  3. No matter how many times you pull the clown back to the grease pencil line, it is never going to see it. You cannot make the clown car into the truck without destroying everything that makes it a clown car.

    As Stephen points out, if you want the clown car to end up following the same path as you've drawn with the grease pencil, you have to construct a path that the clown car can see and follow. It may be frustrating for you to see all the chaos, bouncing off walls and seemingly going backwards at time, but that frustration is exactly what they feel trying to follow a path they can't see.

  4. I'm not confortable with the 2x4barrier method. I'd like the toy to follow a path because it wants to, not because I didn't give it any other choice. For that matter I could just put the car in a box and take it where I want it to go.
    As far as the grease pencil path goes; I doesn't bother me if they follow a different path. It just troubles me to see the car run around with any goal or purpose all, even sabotaging its own stated goals.
    To beat this analogy completey to the ground; if the surface is rough enough the little bars that derail the clown car will eventually wear down and have less and less effect. Eventually the car will go in a straighter path. This too troubles me. I like the occasional randomness.
    I'd like to find a hybrid of these two cars that used the randon functions of the clown car to explore and play but still had the ability to follow a path once it has found one it likes.

  5. You're not ok with the 2x4 barriers, but you are ok with the barriers created by the optics in the truck and the pencil line? Put the truck on a clean vinyl sheet and what does it do? Does it not move about as aimlessly and erratically as the clown car?

    I don't think it's your job to create the barriers for your kids any more than I think it's your job to draw the line with the grease pencil. It seems to me your job is to help them figure out where they want to go, and then help them get there themselves. For some of your kids that may just mean showing them how to draw the line from where they are to where the want to be, or helping them place the 2x4s and books to keep them from going to far off course. Though, I'll have to get back to you in 10-20 years to let you know how it works out for me.

  6. As I pointed out in the initial analogy the truck can and does get off track. I'm okay with that. That's when it's my job to help smooth out the path. 2x4s prevent the car from going off path. I'd rather work with the truck to see how we can customize the path to make it easier to follow rather than making deviations impossible.

    My biggest concern is when they won't even follow the lines that they have drawn for themselves. I can help them draw it but ultimately have to follow it.

  7. I don't see the 2x4 and book path as being so narrow as to not allow any deviation. In fact, I think it should be sufficiently wide to allow it behave like a clown car, within certain limits.

    This can mean that sometimes the clown car goes backwards, or bounces around, but as long as the goal is there, and the barriers keep it from deviating too far from the path then progress is being made. Here's a picture to illustrate.

    How does that translate it to dealing with your kids? I don't know exactly, but I suspect it's not so much about changing your kids, as it is finding out what they really want and devising a strategy that will get them there.

  8. notice the first thing I choose to use in my tracks are buildimg blocks, then ALL the GOOD Books. This was not just because I actually used a series called "The Great Books" for my tracks, but because I believe all Good books can be used to help give a car with seemingly no direction or purpose a place to call its own, and a reason to exist.
    The 2X4s are for the car to use to create its own path. It will need YOUR building blocks, ALL the GOOD Books and some raw materials to help make its journey. That was my point.

  9. I've kept this as an analogy to avoid detailing too many specifics about those I love, but the analogy is far from perfect.
    The comments have taken a defensive tone and are missing the inital point of the post.
    My intent was not to debate anybody's parenting techniques, but to simply express my frustration and sadness.

  10. I apologize if anything I said made anyone feel defensive, or that I was being defensive. I felt your frustration, and was offering what I thought was help, or suggestions.

    I have not been offended by any of these comments, and my goal is still to help you with your expressed emotions. I did kinda think the picture was a good graphic description of my suggestion, but it was not posted when I started my previous post.

    If, in my attempt to lend advice where I thougth advice was requested, I have put someone on the defensive, I apologize.

  11. I guess how I can see how they can be interpreted as defensive, but I really don't think that was the intent. It certainly wasn't mine. Yes the discussion is lively, and that's just the sort of thing that makes for a good conversation, online or in person. The comments could just as easily have been interpreted as being explanatory, clarifying a point that might have been missed. Which, incidentally, is how I interpreted them.

    I'm sorry that you're frustrated and sad. I had thought that by posting this you were looking for advice, direction, perspective, etc. and that is what I was attempting to offer. That's what I do when people come to me with problems. I try to help find solutions. If you were simply looking for sympathy, then I apologize for not expressing it better, but you have it. I don't completely understand what you're dealing with, but I appreciate how frustrated you feel.